EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN
Associate Professor Praveen Chaudhry’s images of nomads and weavers in Tibet and Kashmir offer a glimpse of a vanishing world

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A nomad from the mostly Muslim Bakarwal community in Kashmir.

For generations, nomadic tribes in Kashmir and Tibet have shepherded the goats that provide cashmere and pashmina fibers for local weavers. In recent decades, these areas have become militarized zones—China occupies Tibet, and Kashmir has a bleak record of human rights violations, with some 70,000 killed in the last 20 years. By definition, nomads have no fixed address, but their borderless existence is increasingly endangered by these conflicts.

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Weaving pashmina stoles in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir.

Praveen Chaudhry, an associate professor of political science at FIT, researches social movements and human displacements. Chaudhry, honored with a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2010, became concerned that the plight of the nomads was receiving insufficient attention. So, for the last five years, he has spent considerable time in the region studying nomad communities, and taking photographs that document, in his words, “the process of urbanization, population pressure, growing conflict in the state, environmental degradation, and globalization.” Early on, he decided to avoid obvious emblems of war and suffering, and instead capture images of civil society, which persists despite existential threats.

A boy beside the kitchen in his tent, constructed from yak hide, which is portable, warm, and waterproof

A boy beside the kitchen in his tent, constructed from yak hide, which is portable, warm, and waterproof.

Chaudhry has focused on two groups of nomads, one predominantly Muslim, the other Buddhist. Both groups are vulnerable to the military as well as terrorists, who steal their money and goats, and sometimes kidnap young women and boys. The nomads migrate at least twice a year, and Chaudhry has journeyed thousands of miles with them, both in blazing heat and 20-degree-below-zero winters. Once, after an avalanche, he got stuck in a location for several days. Occasion-ally, he heard gunshots. The weavers, he says, have a lifestyle based in meditation and work calmly despite the danger. Chaudhry marvels at some of the ironies he’s witnessed—for example, a soldier climbing out of a menacing tank to ask a weaver for a glass of water.

A weaver absorbed in her work

A weaver absorbed in her work.

Some of Chaudhry’s students, curious about the project, have joined him on his travels. One has since enrolled in a PhD program in sociology at Yale. Another, Trupal Pandya, Photography ’16, has begun a careerdepicting global politics. Over the years, the FIT community has proved beneficial in other ways, too. Chaudhry didn’t have experience in photography, for example, so he took a course at the college.

The images have been displayed in galleries in the United States, India, and Mexico; a selection also appeared in the lobby of the Marvin Feldman Center in February. Chaudhry plans to eventually publish a book of them. In the meantime, he says he’s discovered another purpose for the work.

“As the project developed, I started asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I was giving a talk at FIT, to about 400 people, and the room was totally silent. Here I was, thousands of miles from the community I was talking about. I realized that sometimes, it’s just about the human connection.”

View a short film that lovingly details the lives of nomads in the Himalayas. It was created by Associate Professor Praveen Chaudhry and collaborators including Trupal Pandya ’16 and Alexander Papakonstadinou ’16.